Excellent Article on Spree Killers

Summarized by the Weapons Man blog:

He reviews a lot of literature and finds that killers, like the mass shooters that bedevil us from time to time, are not “insane” as that’s clinically defined: they don’t generally hear voices, hallucinate, or act in illogical fashion (once you grasp their ends, which are illogical to the rest of us). Instead, they are personality-disordered, but quite logical and even methodical in their actions. This has several consequences (which we understand not just from Schulman’s excellent article, but also from previous study of personality disordered individuals) that include …

Read the whole thing, as they say. He notes that there’s no background check that could plausibly detect these kinds of people, and notes that multiple spree killers managed to pass background checks, some of them quite extensive. I agree with the Weapon Man the solution likely lies in not offering these killers the publicity and notoriety they seek. It’s why you’ll seldom see me mention the names of spree killers on this blog.

3 Responses to “Excellent Article on Spree Killers”

  1. Alpheus says:

    I think that the article is correct to point out that these people are methodical and logical, but I disagree with the claim that they don’t hear voices, or are “perfectly sane”. Insanity and logic aren’t necessarily incompatible with each other; indeed, they often go hand in hand–insane folk use logic to do their best to make sense of the world…with axioms shaped by broken mental processes…and all the logic in the world is useless, if you start with malformed axioms.

    But I also agree with the point that it’s impossible to predict who’s going to go off the deep end–because not all shooters are necessarily insane, and those who are, can hide it well, and even those who don’t hide it, largely won’t go off and kill people.

    We need to re-examine how we treat the mentally ill; if we could treat those who can’t care for themselves because of insanity, then as a side effect, we’ll have less shootings like this.

    And I /definitely/ agree that we shouldn’t be sensationalizing these shootings so much! The notoriety only puts ideas into the heads of people already predisposed to committing such horror (whether or not they are insane). (Indeed, I would submit that, if these people really are insane–and some are–then publishing their names and the gruesome details of what they did are a violation of privacy that shouldn’t be tolerated!)

  2. The claim that people that do these crimes are not mentally ill is pretty absurd. Yes, there are examples, such as the Columbine killers and Major Hassan, but far more typical are the Navy Yard shooter (hallucinations that police reported); the Aurora shooter (his psychiatrist contacted police); the Tucson shooter (kicked out of school until he had a mental health evaluation); the Virginia Tech shooter (schizophrenic, and ordered into outpatient mental health care); the Stockton schoolyard shooter (schizophrenic, and receiving disability payments because of it); the New Life Church shooter (removed from Youth With a Mission because of hallucinations). I could go on and on with hundreds of examples.

    The others on my panel at the Connecticut Law Review symposium this last week were social workers and psychiatrists, and they presented a collection of data that demonstrated what I have found: clear evidence that the severely mentally ill are higher risk of murder than the general population.

  3. Thanks for the link and the comment.

    Clayton is almost certainly right that some of these guys are mentally ill and not just personality disordered. But a lot of them are just PD and in fact, diagnostics are an art, far from precise. Look what’s just happened to former VA gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds…. Doubtless the docs would have retained his son if (1) they had some reasonable idea he was potentially violent and (2) they had a legal means to do so. Much is not in the press (and that’s another argument, whether it should be), but my impression is that both conditions were negative. I’m sure the docs are second-guessing themselves privately, which mental health treatment gives a lot of room for.

    For someone with a personality disorder or two in his circle, there may not be much of a distinction between PD and mental illness, but Clayton has experienced a schizophrenic in the family, and has written sensitively about both the experience and the thorny public policy issues. I recommend his book My Brother Ron very frequently. (Sebastian, I didn’t make that a link to Amazon so that you can, and insert your magic code).

    The right answer is probably some combination of institutionalization for the severe cases, and increased surveillance, at least, of the personality disordered. But there are political and human rights problems with those. In fact, what we need is for medical research to understand these diseases and disorders, but we can’t schedule a discovery and we need a lot of discoveries to be able to help these individuals and the society that they disturb (and that some of them threaten).

    I hope the proceedings of Clay’s symposium will be available somewhere?

    In any event, in 2013, as I understand it, our ability to treat either schizophrenia or personality disorders is about as good as 18th Century treatments for cancer, which is to say, hopeless. One hopes we’re not hundreds of years from treatment, but — as I said — we can’t schedule the discoveries required.